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Sun jumps to false conclusions about Greensboro death

Graphic warning: Video depicts a fatal confrontation with police. Greensboro Police Department body-worn camera footage of Anton Black's arrest and subsequent cardiac arrest. Video courtesy of Greensboro PD

Editors of The Baltimore Sun wasted no time in condemning police in connection with the death of Anton Black (“The more we learn, the worse police look in death of Anton Black,” Jan. 24). Largely unconcerned with the facts, The Sun assumes that Greensboro police officers’ actions were, at a minimum, arbitrary and at worst intended to cause harm to Black. But a critical review of body-worn camera video and the autopsy of Black all but exonerate police.

Instead of withholding judgment until all relevant facts were known, The Sun chose to make the biased and premature conclusion that police were in the wrong and that Black’s death was “unnecessary.” While it may have been unnecessary, it was not the police who had the final say as to a safe conclusion of the incident.

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Greensboro police initially received a 911 call from an unrelated individual that a person (who was apparently Black) was dragging a child down the street by the child’s neck. When police arrived they found Black in the company of a 12-year-old young man. The body-worn camera video shows only a few seconds of that interaction before Black takes off running from the officer. But the circumstances strongly suggest that the officer had not yet confirmed or dispelled the observations made by the original 911 caller.

Since the 1960s, police have been legally authorized to detain individuals while working to determine whether a crime was occurring or about to occur. Yet The Sun would have preferred that police let Black flee without ever determining if there was in fact a kidnapping, assault or some other crime.

In another of its many criticisms launched at police, The Sun finds fault with the initial officer verbalizing his recognition that Black likely had a mental health issue. In its editorial, The Sun mocks the officer for even raising the issue of Black’s mental health by asking rhetorically “when did police officers get into the business making such a diagnosis?” While obviously not a “diagnosis,” the officer was alert to the fact that Black’s behavior was consistent with mental illness.

Police ultimately told Black’s family that he was not being charged with a crime; rather, he would be evaluated at the hospital for possible mental health crisis. The body-worn camera video helps us understand Black’s erratic behavior and other indicators of a mental health crisis. Police officers in Maryland are empowered to take individuals into custody when they appear to be suffering from mental illness and present a threat of harm to themselves or others.

In the moments that preceded Black’s unfortunate and sudden death from a congenital heart defect, Greensboro police officers did what is expected of a professional law enforcement officer in 2019. They responded to a citizen’s call for help. After locating the persons thought to be involved in a possible kidnapping, they began a brief investigation to determine what, if anything, happened. The subject of that brief investigation, Black, fled from officers before the suspicion of the citizen caller could be confirmed or dispelled. While Black did resist being taken into custody, little force was used by police officers. The officers involved demonstrated a caring and sensitive attitude to Black and his family. Once it became apparent that Black required emergency medical care, officers summoned an ambulance and began CPR.

But, with unfailing predictability, The Sun’s editorial board simply parrots the family attorney’s baseless, non-factual allegations that are belied by the available evidence. Media organizations, whether cable news or Baltimore’s print newspaper of record, would be well-served to wait for the facts before jumping to conclusions.

Jason C. Johnson, Alexandria, Va.

The writer is president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.

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